Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Outside View: Immigrants in France - (United Press International)

Outside View: Immigrants in France

By Robert Levine
Outside View Commentator

Washington, DC, Dec. 10 (UPI) -- The United States and France face the parallel problem of assimilating large groups of culturally different immigrants: Hispanics in the United States, North Africans in France. History suggests the United States will incorporate the new entrants more or less smoothly while the French are likely to fail.

The first immigrants to enter the United States in large numbers were the Irish in 1845. Italians and East European Jews followed, starting 40 years later. The key to their assimilation has been that U.S. culture has changed even as it 'Americanized' the newcomers. In spite of current alarms, the Hispanic wave looks little different.

France remains the European nation most open to immigrants, assimilating individuals into traditional French culture. The North Africans constitute the first massive wave. Many want to retain elements of their own culture and the other French are resisting mightily.

Until 1845, the United States could be characterized as an Anglo-Saxon Protestant society; although black slaves modified the culture from the start. Catholicism was tolerated but mistrusted. Germans constituted a small node.

The Irish potato famine forced emigration so rapid that by 1850, 10 percent of the U.S. population was Irish. They were different. Anti-Catholicism burgeoned and employers refused to hire the Irish, forcing them to depend on their own economy. Communal clashes were common. They gradually found public jobs, many as policemen. They forced their way into politics -- in 1905, John Fitzgerald Kennedy's grandfather became the first Irish mayor of Boston.


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